we still have a chance

As legendary marine biologist Sylvia Earle once said,

"It is the worst of times but it is the best of times because we still have a chance". 

By Kristen McSpadden

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As a young wom*n and as an environmentalist I feel the pressure of time very strongly. When I first heard all of the hard evidence on climate change and plastic pollution, it hurt me in a way I didn’t think was possible. Facts that come with a time limit are some of the hardest to stomach. I was in Year 11 geography studying over-fishing when I first heard that there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight) by 2050. I tried to imagine snorkelling in my favourite local spots and collecting more trash than photos of fish. This was the first time I had the opportunity to reflect on the way my habits and choices as a consumer could impact our ecosystems. My emotions ranged from anger and passion for change to a feeling of hopelessness when thinking about how I would ever get other people to change their plastic lifestyles.


As I watched documentaries and researched our oceans, I became starkly aware of how rapidly top predators in our oceans are declining. Sharks, tuna, salmon all being overfished to the brink of extinction. It is very easy to feel lost and like you are too small to make a ripple in these global issues, but as wom*n we have a platform whether it be to your family and friends, on your social media or in your career path to educate in passionate and hopeful way to others.


I do find it daunting when I think about the gender differences in the STEM field I am apart of but we will always have powerful female role models like Sylvia Earle, Valerie Taylor and Jane Goodall.  These wom*n have the confidence and resilience to speak against corporate greed and the devastating effects it is having on our environment, and I thank them for their contribution to science for they have shaped my dreams to be a scientist and conservationist.


I think one thing that people associate with wom*n is that if they are going to follow a career path in a non-female dominant field, then they should have their lives and goals set out step by step. I find this all too often when people question your ability to find a job in your chosen career or when they expect me, as a 19 year old, to know exactly what specialised path I want to follow.


Then you get the questions you dread most:

“But how will you make a successful career when you will be having babies soon?”

“Don’t focus on your career too much or you will leave it too late to have kids!”


Like come on! As if my life choices are going to have any influence from the sexist, snarky comments made by customers in my casual workplace. What makes it even worse is that it isn’t just males who ask these things.


To the women getting shamed for choosing their career or decision to not have a family at the ‘expected time’ or to not having one at all, I am with you. I don’t want to wake up one morning in thirty years and think that I didn’t give everything I had to my dream of being a marine researcher, whether it be in coral reef rehabilitation, cetacean ethology, or as a scientist activist. Which one I do not know yet, but I know that I must follow these feelings.


This planet is the only one we have and it is our responsibility to ensure that the environment will be in a healthy state for generations to come. We are at a crossroads where we have to make a decision about the future we want for our planet right now.  Individual action is the most powerful tool we have as young people to make a change and to stand for what we believe in.


These are some of the easiest ways to reduce your plastic consumption and carbon footprint:

- Buy yourself a nice metal reusable water bottle and take it with you everywhere you go.

- Ask for no straw when you are getting a cocktail/milkshake/juice because it is a useless piece of plastic that will be used for only seconds and last forever! The best way to avoid straws is to just say no to them or to buy a pack of metal/ glass or bamboo reusable straws.

- Get yourself a keep cup! This is the best investment I have ever made. Buying a keep cup has meant I haven’t used a takeaway cup since 2016. What a lot of people don’t realise is that even if you get a takeaway cup with no lid, the actual cup is lined with a thin piece of clear plastic to waterproof it, meaning that no parts of a takeaway coffee can be recycled.

- Buying sustainable, local and second-hand fashion is a massive way to decrease your impact on the planet. Buy from small business and companies who will willing tell you who made your clothes, under what conditions, for what wage and with what environmental standards. Vintage stores and op shops always have some great options as well!

- As annoying as it sounds, eating less red meat is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Agriculture is one of the biggest greenhouse gas polluters today. Even if you don’t want to give up meat totally, just skip the beef burger and go for chicken!

- Only buy fish when it is sustainably certified. Overfishing is almost collapsing our marine ecosystems. The Australia marine conservation society has a great sustainable sea food guide on their website! Also, fish are becoming heavily polluted with micro plastics (<1mm). These toxins leach into their tissues and organelles and then we consume them. This is how plastic has worked its way through our food chain.

- Take 3 for the sea! Whenever you see any trash anywhere but especially the beach, just pick it up and put it in the bin!


To all the wom*n out there, stick to your intuition, follow your dreams and remember that there is always someone that supports you, even if it is yourself.

Kristen McSpadden is a 19 year old student and passionate environmentalist from Newcastle. At the moment, Kristen is protesting seismic testing in Newcastle (more info here) and the proposed Adani coal mine (more info here). 

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